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indie writer interview: Junying Kirk, multicultural icon

Posted by Matt Posner on October 4, 2011 at 8:50 PM

I want to start by telling Junying that I feel a special connection to her as a fellow writer because she is a multicultural person writing about multicultural life and married to someone from a different culture, and I define myself in very similar terms. I write about global culture through the lens of magical traditions, and I am married to a woman from India who aside from being a great wife has also exposed me to many cultural traditions and values that I have happily embraced.

Now for the interview.

What's your name, where are you from, where do you live?

My full name is Junying Jeanie Kirk, originally from China but I have lived in different parts of the UK in the past 23 years, currently living in Birmingham, England.

What do you write and why do you write it?

I have written two full-length novels, 1st and 2nd parts of my “Journey to the West” trilogy. Having lived in China for some twenty years, from the 1960s to the 1980s, when China was going through dramatic and fundamental changes, politically, economically and socially, some more significant than others, I feel that I have a great story to tell, both from a personal angle, as well as from a much wider and more objective perspective. During the years when I was studying and researching in UK universities, I was educated to have a more open mind, equipped with more analytical and critical skills, which I think have been instrumental in my writing. So, instead of just telling a personal story about the protagonist’s life in China, I am able to add depth and width to her tale of heartache, pain, suffering, happiness and joy. So the readers are taken on a journey through her life and times to see how the culture, history, government policies and political system of a country change and impact on ordinary people’s lives.

Your series Journey to the West has the same title as the Chinese novel by Wu Cheng'en, usually considered one of the four great novels in the Chinese classical tradition. This novel, while fantastic in its details, is based on a real life Buddhist monk who travelled to India in search of the greater knowledge of his religion that could be obtained at its point of origin. Would you reflect on the relation you feel between your writing and this novel, or between you and the pilgrim who is its protagonist?

Thanks for pointing this out, Matt. Great question! It made me really think. I called my series Journey to the West for a reason, mainly because the theme of my books is about a journey from East to the West, both literally and symbolically. The long passage has been traumatic, treacherous and troublesome, at the same time exciting, inspiring and even magical, not unlike the adventure that the great Tang Monk took with his faithful disciples about 400 years ago.

There are differences in these two journeys. The Pilgrim Tang San Zang undertook was from China to India (somehow they considered India as ‘West’, in relation to China), and it was to seek spiritual enlightenment, the holy script. The fascinating character, the Monkey King, added wonderful magic and amazing adventure to this epic story, with many elements of Chinese folklores. Although it was based on real life, the book was basically a Fantasy, adventure type, with gods, demons, spirits, fairy tales and a mixture of humor and angst. Some would say that it was the author’s attempt to criticise the Chinese political system at the time. No doubt some would probably claim that my books do the same, although I did not set out to attack any government. I did, however, make my views and observations known through the experiences of ordinary Chinese people and their suffering.

In my Journey to the West books, there are reflections of life in the 20th and 21st century. There is no element of Fantasy although certain level of adventure in the stories. The Protagonist is female, Pearl, and she is alone in her quest, although she has help along her way. When she left China for the UK, she did not have a ultimate goal of finding enlightenment or salvation of her soul, nevertheless her journey has allowed her to discover herself, developing an awareness of the world and some fundamental differences between Eastern and Western cultures. I can say that in the process, my protagonist has found her peace, her identity and her fulfilment.

I hope I have somehow managed to answer a very complicated question, and I am so honored to have my books associated with this great Chinese classics.

Recommend to readers a book you have written.

I would recommend my first book The Same Moon. I have been asked before why I chose that particular title for my book and I won’t mind sharing this ‘top secret’ with you here: If you know anything about Chinese modern history, you would have heard of the Cultural Revolution and how China managed to shut herself off from the outside world for about three decades. There were people in China who had been educated in the West and had pro-western ideologies. During the Anti-Rightest Movement and then the Cultural Revolution, anything associated with the West or the Imperialists was considered dangerous and undesirable. Unsurprisingly they ended up in a great deal of trouble, persecuted and even killed. One of the many ‘crimes’ they had been accused of was that they regarded the moon in the West as rounder and brighter than that of China.

We all know that this is not true, even ridiculous, but there have been a lot of misconceptions about the West, largely because not many Chinese people were able to actually travel to other countries and experience what it was really like to be living in a different culture. Some of the misunderstandings of the West were derived from the biased propaganda of the Chinese government and highly controlled media, so most Chinese people just have no idea or a completely wrong idea of what is beyond the Great Wall of China. In my book, I wanted to show life in both China and outside its borders in the wider world, highlighting cultural differences between the East and West, at the same time demonstrating what we can identify as universal truth and shared characteristics, no matter where we come from. There are fundamental similarities between us human beings as well as great differences and even huge barriers to across in understanding and appreciating peoples from other cultures. I hope that I have shed some light and possibly educated people in some way via my book.

Recommend to readers a book by someone else.

If you have not read any of Stieg Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy, you are seriously missing something. I love his work whole-heartedly and could not recommend it enough to anyone and everyone. If you have read any of his three books or watched the Swedish made films, you’ll know what I am talking about. I love the characters he has created, I love the action, the pace, the story and ultimately the message he managed to deliver through his books. Incredible!

I devoured all of those books myself, enjoying tremendously all the fine details.   I'm certain I will be rereading them before a year has passed. My wife Julie and I enjoyed the Swedish films as well. However, I might also recommend my friend Andre Jute's sharp critique of Stieg Larsson:  http://www.amazon.com/STIEG-LARSSON-Myth-Mistress-ebook/dp/B004GXAZAM/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1317776390&sr=8-3.

Tell an interesting experience from your life as a writer.

One of the most life-affirming encounters I have experienced since becoming an indie published author has been meeting amazing people, a lot of them also writers, from all over the world. From initially being a reluctant user of Twitter to now being slightly addicted to all things to do with social media. I actually started a twitter chat with an American friend Marni Mann one night, and the next thing I knew I had booked a flight to meet up with her in Monte Carlo three weeks later (please read my blog about this wonderful experience here: http://www.junyingkirk.com/?p=590

It’s a bit crazy but also “awesome”, as my American friends would say :-)!

Tell an interesting experience from a non-writing job you've had.

There are too many. I have been working as a professional interpreter for the past 9 years, and I have come across so many different people and heard unforgettable stories. In fact, my current W.I.P. will try and record some of these heart-breaking, sad, interesting, incredible and touching stories, so please go and read my next book when it comes out.

If you had a brush with death, describe it.

Yes, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with death, well, only about three times until now :-). But I shall share with you one of them which was described in The Same Moon.

"I knelt down to put the seeds into the hole. Before I could stand up, I felt something heavy smash into the back of my head and the impact threw me violently to the ground. The next thing I saw was fresh blood pouring out and soaking the earth red beneath my eyes."

“Jinjin’s hoe had struck my head! For a moment, nobody comprehended what had happened. Then a girl nearby screamed. Lying motionless on the dirt and the newly dug soil, I could not see the panic and shock in Jinjin’s eyes, but I was still conscious. My classmates were quickly gathering around me, their voices filled with fear, disbelief, fright and horror. I did not feel anything.”

What are your views about love?

Love is the most amazing thing in the whole world and a true gift to us human beings. Without love, the world would be a very sad place and life would be utterly pointless! I feel truly blessed that I have found love in my life, of different kinds, and everyone should have love.

What are your views about work?

It depends on what kind of work, and whether it’s something you enjoy or are good at. I have been very fortunate, as I have had very interesting jobs, firstly as a teacher at university, then as an interpreter, both using my skills as a linguist and my ability to communicate.

Write about your favorite teacher.

I love my teachers, most of them anyway, no naughty thoughts, ever :-). My favorite teacher is Professor Lalage Bown, a true inspiration to all. She was my supervisor from University of Glasgow. She graduated from Oxford and spent the best part of her life working in Africa, in educating people and getting rid of illiteracy. Now she is in her 80s, and she is still traveling the world doing amazing work. She has an awe-inspiring intellectual mind and is my role model.

Give me a link to a funny youtube video.

This is a video I made myself when I did a blog on why I love seafood. Hopefully everyone can see why after viewing it. I won’t be Chinese if I didn’t love my food, especially where I came from - we Sichuan people are obsessed with hot spicy food :-)!

http://www.youtube.com/user/junyingkirk?feature=mhee#p/u/10/CK1cYAWiNUk

What are some links readers can use to learn more about your work?

My books are only in electronic form. Here are the links: The Same Moon (Book 1 of Trilogy “Journey to the West”)’ http://www.amazon.com/Same-Moon-Journey-West-ebook/dp/B004M5HHY6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1317776620&sr=1-1 and the sequel, Trials of Life http://www.amazon.com/Trials-Life-Journey-West-ebook/dp/B004XW30RQ/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1317776620&sr=1-3 . You can go to Amazon UK Kindle, or Amazon USA; Also available on Smashwords.

You can also subscribe to my blog or simply visit it from time to time: http://www.junyingkirk.com/ , where I write book and film reviews, travel logs about all the wonderful places I have been to (China, UK, Europe, America etc), meet fellow authors and blog about arts, culture, politics, sports and so on and so forth.

If you so wish, follow me on Twitter: @Junying007 or sign me up on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/junying.kirk

Thank you so much for this opportunity to chat, Matt.

Thank you -- and you have been appointed an honorary member of the School of the Ages faculty.

 

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3 Comments

Reply Junying
3:16 AM on October 5, 2011 
Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to chat and have an interesting discussion.

Off to work now but will be in touch soon.

Have a lovely day!
Reply Jess C Scott
9:51 PM on November 9, 2011 
Wow, that's one cool interview!

I especially liked: "...highlighting cultural differences between the East and West, at the same time demonstrating what we can identify as universal truth and shared characteristics, no matter where we come from. There are fundamental similarities between us human beings as well as great differences and even huge barriers to across in understanding and appreciating peoples from other cultures."

I think that's one of the best things for art/literature/etc to aim for ^^
Reply Junying
6:54 AM on November 10, 2011 
Jess, very kind of you to read my interview with Matt and leave such an encouraging comment. Thanks!

Jess C Scott says...
Wow, that's one cool interview!

I especially liked: "...highlighting cultural differences between the East and West, at the same time demonstrating what we can identify as universal truth and shared characteristics, no matter where we come from. There are fundamental similarities between us human beings as well as great differences and even huge barriers to across in understanding and appreciating peoples from other cultures."

I think that's one of the best things for art/literature/etc to aim for ^^